Ego death is an experience that can occur while using certain psychedelic drugs, particularly magic mushrooms (psilocybin), LSD and DMT. While ego-death may sound scary if you’re new to psychedelics, it doesn’t have to be. Many started using ego dissolution because of the connotation associated with death. Still, they both refer to the same experience.
Before we get into the experience of ego death and how it can be an integral part of the therapeutic experience, let’s define what the ego is.
Description of The Ego
The word ego originally came from a Latin word for “I.” From an etymological perspective, it’s an integral part of who we are, but unfortunately, it’s not simple to define.
The ego includes many parts of our consciousness that describe who we are. These include our self-image (our view of ourselves), self-esteem (the value we place on ourselves), and self-identity (beliefs and ideologies we hold).
Why is the ego important?
The ego acts as a gatekeeper when interacting with the world to help us filter through a bombardment of daily information. Our ego can even help to protect us. However, problems arise when we build the ego on false beliefs. Breaking down the ego can help us look more objectively at ourselves at how we interact with the world.
What is Ego Death
One interpretation of ego death is a disruption of the boundaries that define our ego, which blurs the lines between ourselves and the world around us (Federn, 1952; Savage, 1955; Fischman, 1983).
What Causes Ego Death?
We are still learning about the processes that happen in the brain that allow for this experience. New research suggests a network in the brain called the default mode network (DMN), which dampens during a psychedelic experience, may contribute to ego death.
Another 2020 study found that the claustrum area of the brain was less active while influenced by psilocybin. Francis Crick believes the claustrum (a thin sheet of neurons within the cortex that reaches many areas of the brain) is the seat of consciousness, responsible for awareness and sense of self. More research is necessary to understand this area of the brain, but there is potential that the claustrum is a part of the DMN.
What Does Ego Death Feel Like?
While the definition of ego death can help us understand what’s happening psychologically, it doesn’t necessarily help us understand what a person may experience when consuming psychedelics.
It’s a shift in our brains or consciousness from a self-centred view to a completely unbiased one. Many people describe this as a mystical experience where they feel unity with their surroundings.
Benefits of Ego Death
For those first taking psychedelics, the thought of experiencing ego death can be scary. It can be helpful to prepare for the experience before dosing. Going into the experience with particular therapeutic and healing goals can be beneficial.
Despite the possibility of the initial fear, there are many potential benefits of experiencing ego death. The experience of ego death is one of the reasons many people experience long-term psychological benefits following their dose. It makes people feel more open and connected, which can be a catalyst for improving our psychological wellness.
This connectedness occurs due to a ‘zooming out’ experience. It allows us to think less about ourselves as individuals and become one with nature’s larger whole.
What to Do After the Experience
The experience of ego death, while healing, can also be overwhelming. People may uncover things they were not expecting and may be unprepared to handle. Because of this, most, if not all, clinical trials on the use of psychedelics are monitored by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional.
It can be helpful to have a plan for integration following your psychedelic experience. Integration is a process that involves reflecting and taking care of oneself following the trip, and it’s the most crucial aspect of the psychedelic experience. This process could look different for each individual. Some people like to plan specific self-care activities like yoga or journaling. Others make an appointment with their regular mental health supports. In the words of Charles Bukowski: You have to die a few times before you can really live.